I read K-PAX almost a year ago, and enjoyed it very much. In my Amazon review I gave the book 4 stars, and thought at the time that was an accurate reflection of its quality--I prefer to save a 5 star rating for only a very few works, and those of the highest artistic merit. But in the intervening time K-PAX has stayed with me, unlike so much else I've read. Gene Brewer's characters are compelling beyond description, and unique in the world of fiction. The story, a fascinating blend of magical realism and psychiatric case study, delves deeply into the human condition, finding both gentle optimism and harsh reality. In retrospect, K-PAX clearly deserved 5 stars.
On a Beam of Light however, is the second book of a projected trilogy--always a difficult challenge from the writer's perspective. First books start the story, introducing characters and setting the themes and plot; third books bring the story to fruition, usually providing the climax of the entire trilogy. But second books are development and must remain open-ended. Brewer deftly places the reader within the world of his eponymous psychiatrist and the Manhattan Psychiatric Institute without too much awkward recapitulation from the first novel. But necessarily his focus has changed. Rather than concentrate on a further exploration of the character of prot, the personality of the alien from the planet K-PAX, Brewer examines prot's human host personality, Robert Porter. Sensing deeper trauma still than the horrifying events uncovered in the first book, Brewer explores his patient's childhood for an explanation of prot's existence and savant-like abilities and Porter's profound problems. Magical realism abounds here, too, as the reader is kept guessing about prot's Dr. Dolittle-esque ability to talk to animals, his phenomenal restorative powers for his fellow patients, his astronomical astronomical knowledge, and his peculiar ability to move from place to place on the titular beam of light. While K-PAX seemed, for the most part, to resolve its dilemmas in favor of the reality with which we earthlings are most intimately acquainted, On a Beam of Light does no such thing--major questions are left dangling, clearly to be resolved (but which way?) in the next book. I found On a Beam of Light not quite the equal of its predecessor--the revelations of Robert's past seemed rather too horrifyingly commonplace, and the resolution of one of the patient's problems (Lou, a transgendered man) required such a wild oversight on the staff's part that I found it unbelievable--but nonetheless an excellent book. I eagerly await both the trilogy's final novel and the movie of K-PAX.